Call to reduce sudden infant deaths

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A charity has warned that the number of sudden infant deaths is not reducing at a suitable rate and it is up to health officials to do more to prevent these deaths.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is where a healthy baby dies unexpectedly.

The Office for National Statistics has issued new figures which indicate that there were about 221 unexplained deaths of infants in England and Wales during 2012. This amounts to 0.30 deaths for every 1000 live births. During 2011, the unexplained death rate was 0.34 for every 1000 births.

The Lullaby Trust has stated their disappointment that the numbers had not declined over the two-year period. They have called for local health authorities and health officials to do more to reduce the death rate.

The chief executive of The Lullaby Trust, Francine Bates, said that the UK has the highest infant mortality rate in Western Europe. She said this was disconcerting as there are known measures which could reduce the risk of SIDS and could save many lives. She said that we are failing hundreds of babies each year and more should be done to make the survival of infants a priority.

In countries, such as Holland, where SIDS is very low, they strive to reduce infant deaths and health professionals constantly offer safer sleep advice to families with small children. Ms Bates said that her organisation is concerned that Britain is becoming complacent and is asking for Public Health England and Wales to work hand-in-hand with local authorities to try and reduce the incidences of SIDS.

She added that SIDS has reduced by 70% since 1989, so lives can be saved by offering information to parents on safer sleeping habits. This includes placing a baby on its back when asleep, keeping a baby smoke free whilst pregnant and after the birth, and controlling the temperature in the baby’s environment.

The Lullaby Trust has set a target to reduce the number of unexplained infant deaths by half by 2020. This can be achieved by offering safer sleep information to both health care professionals and families; fund research into the causes of this syndrome and how it can be prevented, and offering support to local awareness campaigns. The trust has stated that much more can be done to lower the rate of death, but they are not able to achieve this alone. They are calling on all major parties to pledge their support to the babies in the UK and to commit to reducing the rate of infant mortality.

During July, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) drafted new recommendations to aid in lowering the number of infant cot deaths. It stated that new mothers should be educated about the risks of having their babies sleep with them and should learn about safe sleeping habits.

The guidance also states that health visitors, GPs and midwives should alert parents to the fact that the SIDS risk is higher if parents smoke, drink or take drugs. Nice stated that premature babies or those with lower birth weights are at higher risk of cot death if they sleep in the same bed with their parents.

Image Credit: David Pursehouse

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